Jonathan Morduch
“Why a steady job is no longer enough to feel financially secure”
Personal Finance. Community Results. A TEDxWilmington Salon
Tuesday, September 12th, 2017 at the Gold Ballroom at the Hotel DuPont   MORE INFO

“Part of the deal in presenting at a TEDx event is that the organizers expect preparation and practice. A lot. It’s a key ingredient of the TEDx recipe.

I knew that intensive preparation was part of the deal when I signed on at the start of the summer. In fact it was something that I looked forward to. But still I ended up falling way behind.

It’s not that I hadn’t known about the TEDx plan for months. And it’s not that I hadn’t known how crazy the end of the summer would be for me. I knew that work travel in South Asia in July and a deadline for a new study would steal time. Same with a family trip in the middle of August, along with prep for the new semester at NYU.

With gentle reminders (and some not-so-gentle reminders) the organizers let me know that I had better pick up the pace. So I did, and they’ve helped me get back on track.

What I didn’t expect was that my scheduling problems would bring me a closer connection to the  talk. The talk draws on an intensive study that is partly about why Americans feel financially insecure. A large part of the story turns out to be that short-term needs constantly undermine long-term needs. A car might need fixing, for example, which means that there’s less money to pay down debt. Or paying urgent medical bills means less goes into retirement accounts.

Often households anticipate the short-term needs—maybe not the exact timing and size, but the basic need is often understood. In principle, then, households can prepare by saving up ahead of time. But, in practice, households often get stuck in the moment, and they end up borrowing or taking other costly steps.

In that specific way, it’s not so different from how I got stuck even with ample warning.

There are important differences too, of course. One of the key differences is that, in my case, the TEDxWilmington organizers were there with the right mix of nudges and incentives to steer toward a better outcome, taking steps before the problem grew too big. They didn’t leave me on my own to figure it all out.

If only those kinds of nudges and incentives were there for the households who get in financial binds. The households’ struggles are not just caused by a lack of resources (time and money)—though that’s a big part of the problems. Their difficulties are also caused by insufficient structures (nudges, incentives, encouragement, and blunt talk) that can support the households in reducing the chance that difficulties turn into crises.”


Jonathan Morduch teaches at New York University where he focuses on the connections between finance, inequality, and poverty. Together with Rachel Schneider, he’s an author of The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty. The book tells the stories of working families in four regions of America and how they made ends meet over the course of a year. Their stories and data open new (and sometimes surprising) perspectives on how families today earn, spend, save, borrow, and deal with ups and downs. 

Morduch has also written on microlending and global poverty. Morduch received his BA from Brown, Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard, and an honorary doctorate from the Free University of Brussels. READ MORE

Personal Finance. Community Results :: A TEDxWilmington Salon :: Tuesday, September 12th, 2017 :: Gold Ballroom at the Hotel DuPont   MORE INFO